» UNESCO contributes to debate on hate speech online
08.06.2016 - Communication & Information Sector

UNESCO contributes to debate on hate speech online

UNESCO’s Guy Berger and free speech lawyer Robert Corn-Revere. © UNESCO

A week after four Internet companies announced new plans to address hate speech online, UNESCO contributed to the debate about this kind of expression during a conference in Paris for European Media Lawyers.

Organised by the US-based Media Law Resource Center, and French publisher Legipresse, the conference on June 6 also discussed free expression and privacy, national security and civil liberties, and protection of journalists’ sources.

On the hate speech panel were UNESCO director for freedom of expression and media development, Guy Berger, and free speech lawyer Robert Corn-Revere of US law firm Davis Wright Tremaine.

In his remarks, Berger advocated for hate speech to be assessed in terms of the Human Rights standards of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.

He further urged consideration of the impact, of any hate speech restrictions, on the Openness and Accessibility of the Internet, principles that are part of the UNESCO concept of Internet Universality.

Referring to UNESCO’s study Countering online hate speech, Berger called for Multistakeholder participation in countering hatred online, adding that this meant “tapping insights beyond state actors, to include companies, civil society, parliamentarians and others”.

He commended the new code of conduct by Microsoft, Youtube, Twitter and Facebook for acknowledging the complexity and need for training in identifying what constitutes instances of hate speech which merits removal from their platforms.

Robert Corn-Revere outlined the USA’s approach, saying it put a presumption on protecting speech, and the burden on government to prove intent and likelihood of harm when restricting hateful expressions.

He also highlighted how Internet intermediary companies were protected in the USA, compared to their greater liability in Europe, and expressed concern over the breadth of international rationales for legitimate limits of speech.

Even when circumscribable hate speech was very narrowly defined, other forms of hate would still be expressed, said Corn-Revere. For him, this highlighted the need to rely on counter-speech to deal with the problems, rather than counting primarily on legal restriction.

Bad ideas could serve the market place of ideas precisely through their contrast with other ideas, he argued.

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